Alex Pietrangelo vs. Erik Johnson

Alex Pietrangelo vs. Erik Johnson

Two youngsters on the blueline. Two different paths to reach the current season. Two very different results so far in 2010-11.

Believed to be two outstanding young talents in the making, the 2010-11 season has seen Alex Pietrangelo really take on his NHL career while it has seen Erik Johnson spin his wheels and fail to build upon his development. Is there something behind Johnson’s step back or is it just a case of numerous bad breaks leading to a lack of confidence?

Alex Pietrangelo’s Success

Let’s start with the more positive story first.

Alex Pietrangelo’s transition into the NHL was a slow one to say the least. His first NHL action came back in the 2008-09 season when he appeared in eight games. The following year he appeared in nine games. Fans clamored for him to be brought into the mix regularly in 2009-10, but the organization decided another year in the minors would serve him better. This season, Pietrangelo has made everyone forget in a hurry that it is his first full season. Unfortunately, due to eligibility rules, he isn’t eligible for any Rookie of the Year honors, but certainly has been outstanding in his “first” year.

From positioning to handling the puck, Petro really hasn’t seen many struggles on either side of the game. He is strong defensively and has been the best weapon on the blueline this season. Of course, that’s not to say he’s been perfect. There have been times where he might try to do too much with the puck and there are other times where experience is lacking, but these are both areas that could (and should) improve with time.

The Blues knew they were getting a major talent in Pietrangelo when they drafted him 4th overall in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. However, it is doubtful anyone anticipated his transition into the NHL, mainly meaning this season, would be so effortless.

Often I must remind myself that this is Petro’s first full season in the NHL. His poise and ability to handle pressure is that of a player that has numerous seasons to his resume.

Erik Johnson’s Struggles

Erik Johnson has always been under a microscope and always will be. He is plagued with the curse of being a first overall pick of a draft. We’re all more than familiar with the story of Johnson, his knee and a rogue golf cart. We know it cost him an entire season. When he made his return in 2009-10, he played extremely well and showed very few signs of missing an entire year of development.

It looks like that year might have finally caught up to him. In young skaters, the mental side of the game plays an enormous role – a role that challenges even the best physical talent. This season, Johnson looks as if his mind is getting the better of him.

We know he has the talent. We know he has the potential to be a real difference maker.

Last season, Johnson notched 39 points in 79 games – a mark that had fans eager to see what he could do in his second season removed from his knee injury. However, through 54 games this season, Johnson has just 18 points. He is making mistakes that a player in his third full NHL season shouldn’t be making.

Is this his sophomore slump, delayed due to the missed year with an injury?

One Writer’s Opinion

I’m not ready to write Erik Johnson off and I don’t think fans should either. He has shown moments of true excellence in his young career. This season has been one to forget for the blueliner, but should we really determine a first overall pick’s future solely on 54 games? To be fair, plenty of games from that 54 sample have been quite good, but have often slipped under the radar. Think back to his game-winner in OT against Pittsburgh in the season’s first month. These moments of brilliance are hidden behind the miscues and ugly number in his plus/minus category.

One fan summed it up well on Twitter – StlouisSports9 stated: “I’m not giving up on Johnson, but he’s looking like the rookie this year. Pietrangelo looks like a vet.”

I think that pretty nicely covers my view on Johnson. He obviously isn’t playing up to his potential, but when you compare him to what Pietrangelo has done this season, that’s when things look pretty negative for EJ.

Let’s put it this way: Just as you shouldn’t write Erik Johnson off for his play through first 2/3 of this season, you shouldn’t be too quick to assume what Alex Pietrangelo’s career in the NHL will be like. Obviously Petro has been outstanding, but that isn’t to say there won’t be some rough patches ahead.

Let’s give Petro a pat on the back. With just a collection of games under his belt, he has stormed into 2010-11 and been a difference maker. In 52 games, he has already amassed 27 points and has quickly become a prominent fixture on the team’s power-play.

Is it possible that with Petro’s success, EJ has felt more and more pressure to shine and thus has succumbed to the pressure? It’s often an angle we might overlook as some observers may feel the pressure is removed from Johnson as another talented d-man is patrolling the blueline with him. I think otherwise. Both guys are first rounders and both have a lot to prove in their first few seasons. Competition like this is a good thing. However, EJ has obviously fallen behind and you can tell he isn’t the confident skater he once was.

Fortunately, that’s a hurdle I believe EJ can overcome. For now, I still want him in the mix with my St. Louis Blues. The organization invested quite a lot into him by selecting him with their first pick back in 2006, and while I may not necessarily agree with how defensively minded this team has been, I’m not to the point of believing it’s time to trade Johnson.